October 3, 2010

The grades are in - Oklahoma report card

Grading scale

A - All-American level
B - All-Conference level
C - Average
D - Below average
F - Complete failure

Quarterback - Determining a grade for Garrett Gilbert is probably the toughest task of this week's report card. On one hand, he didn't make THE play/plays that the offense needed him to make to win this game. On the other hand, he didn't turn the ball over (there's no way he's getting dinged by me for a Hail Mary interception on a play that probably should have never been called) and played pretty well given the shackles he played with (game-plan/scheme/teammates). On one hand, he did hold the ball too long on a few occasions, which led to negative plays that he can't take. On the other hand, he doesn't have anyone open to throw to the ball to and his offensive line treats ongoing pass-rushers like a subway turnstile. On one hand, he overthrew a few passes and might have missed some receivers. On the other hand, he completed 66% of his passes, once again suffered through numerous drops and was missing his No.1 receiver.

The truth of the matter is that I don't know how to judge Gilbert right now. How do you judge a young quarterback that is given a game-plan that is just good enough that allows you a chance to tie the game with a minute to go, but not much more? How do you judge a quarterback who is playing with the worst offensive supporting cast of any Texas quarterback since 1999?

I guess it's possible that he just doesn't have "it" because he didn't make the "it" plays, but I see a young quarterback whose biggest sin is that he's not Colt McCoy of 2008 or Vince Young of 2005. I suppose he could have completed 75% of his passes, but goodness, how high is your bar for a kid making his fifth start? No, his biggest problem is that this current offense's path to success appears to rely completely on the quarterback's ability to play at superhuman levels and he's not up to that task. Is this insanity?

Grade: C

Running backs -I don't know how to get past the fact that the best running back on this team doesn't know the plays and can't get more than four carries in 60 minutes of football. Texas rushed for 107 yards as a team on Saturday and 60 of them came on one carry, on a play that represented the only pop the Texas offense displayed for most of the day. With what he was given, you've got to give D.J. Monroe an A+ because this team might have been run out of the stadium without his touchdown. It was 14-0 and the Longhorns were on the ropes in a major way. It only makes his lack of use afterwards even more confusing.

Fozzy Whittaker was another guy that did some nice things in the running game, averaging 5.8 yards per carry, but he only received nine carries in the game. The kid posted 77 yards of total offense and averaged better than five yards per touch. You can certainly live with that. Mix in Cody Johnson's 33-yard catch and subsequent touchdown and this running back position actually had a fairly nice day at the office, especially when you consider that they committed zero turnovers or penalty.

The ironic, ugly little truth is the Texas running backs rushed for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries, while contributing seven receptions for 58 yards. This position played well enough for Texas to win.

Grade: B+

Wide receivers - Of all the underachieving units on the team, maybe this one is the most surprising. I just don't know what to make of a unit that has dropped 14 passes in the last three weeks and has rarely played up its upside at any point in five games. I don't know how much of it is the scheme/offense and how much of it is simply the players, but there just wasn't anyone that was getting open on most plays this Saturday, at least not open beyond five yards of the line of scrimmage. On plays where Gilbert held the ball too long, I didn't see receivers that were helping him out.

James Kirkendoll played a solid game (eight receptions for 87 yards), but he dropped two passes, had a holding penalty and a fumble as well. When the best player at a position plays what amounts to a sum zero gain on the day, it's not going to be a great afternoon. Likewise, Malcolm Williams had a big 40-yard catch on the fourth quarter, but he was mostly a non-factor until his catch in the fourth quarter. With Mike Davis out with an injury, the team needed these two players with seven combined letters of experience (counting this season) to play to the occasion and it didn't really happen. However, they each made a play and they get credit for that.

On the other hand, Marquise Goodwin (three catches for 34 yards) was mostly on a non-factor and I had to check the participation section of the box score to confirm that a banged up John Chiles even played.

Here are the bare-boned numbers - 14 receptions for 179 yards and no touchdowns. On a day when you're running game gets 15 carries all day, that kind of production isn't good enough.

Grade: D

Tight ends- Is it a bad sign that every offensive series that involved the tight end position came to a crashing stop? Barrett Matthews and Greg Smith caught six passes, but none of them moved the chains once and the Sooner defense seemed to take delight in begging the Longhorns to throw their way when nothing else was available. Of course, it's not either player's fault that they weren't able to convert 3rd and 22, but you've got to be able to be enough of a weapon to contribute on third and six, and this position isn't coming close to making that type of positive contribution to the offense. In addition to the lack of contribution in the passing game, there was yet another back-breaking pre-snap penalty on third down that helped kill a drive.

Grade: D

Offensive line -Here's the good news - they were better than last week. Actually, they did some good things in the running game, and they should have because the Sooners rate as one of the worst run defenses in the nation. When you look at the yards per carry and some of the success they had in the ground game, it makes you wonder why they didn't stick with it.

The pass protection is a mixed bag and I'll tell you why. Although they only gave up three sacks and actually provided some decent pass protection for Gilbert at times, teams continue to consistently dedicate only four pass rushers on passing downs because they know that the line will cave somewhere. Teams are flooding the passing lanes against Texas' passing game with defenders they don't need to use for pressure. The ugly truth about this group is that it is at its worst when the spotlight is the brightest. It's when this team gets to third down or in the red-zone when this group truly fails to deliver. Those mistakes are just killing this team. Kyle Hix was hit with his sixth penalty in five games and this time it helped kill an offensive drive that had started to cook a little with the team down 14 points. Fellow tackle Britt Mitchell was beaten badly on a couple of third downs for sacks by Jeremy Beal, who came into this game having provided almost no pass rush for the Sooners through four games. Like Scott Smith two weeks ago, he turned into an All-Big 12 player on Saturday (five tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble).

The interior of the line played better in my mind. Senior Michael Huey and center David Snow played quality games, and the tandem of Mason Walters and Trey Hopkins mostly played a solid brand of football, all things considered because the interior of the Oklahoma defense was mostly a non-factor in the game.

Grade: C-

Offensive game plan - I've long been a defender of Greg Davis and will be so in a number of respects, but he dusted off the same game-plan that he used in 2004 against the Sooners - he played not to lose. The outcomes were similar - neither gave the Longhorns a chance to win a game that almost always determines the long-term fate of an entire season. When you look at the laundry list of issues with the offense, it's a combination of things - part scheme, part preparation, part game plan, part ideology and part common sense.

Davis was so concerned about the turnovers from the last two weeks that he played right into Oklahoma's hands with his keep-everything-simple approach to offense. Look no further than the first offensive series of the game when he threw consecutive passes behind the line of scrimmage to Kirkendoll. I think everyone in the building knew the play was coming, but you can set your watch to the fact that Texas is going to begin every game with these types of throws in an effort to help get Gilbert into a rhythm. Result? Gilbert's in a two-for-two groove, but its third and 14.

There's just too much waste in the Texas offense right now with this incredibly conservative approach to football. Too much of the field is not being used. Too many of the players on the field aren't being utilized. Too often Gilbert is working with only one true option on any given pass play, as other players run decoy and clear routes. Passing games are supposed to have layers and as a quarterback makes his reads, his eyes move from deep to medium to short. Very little of that is currently happening within the Texas offense, as I'm often left wondering what Gilbert is supposed to do when viewing his options live.

The Longhorns don't have an offense right now as much as they simply have a jambalaya of plays. It's the mid-point of the season and the best running back on the team doesn't know the plays, which apparently means that he cannot play more than four or five snaps per game, even if he represents the only big-play spark on the field. The fact that the staff doesn't have Monroe ready to contribute more than four carries in the game is on them - period. They've simply done a poor job of finding and developing their best players, and if you don't think having Monroe fully involved in the offense might have made the difference in that eight-point final deficit, you're not paying attention to what he's doing once he gets the ball in his hands.

Also, why are the tight ends on the field in obvious passing situations? It's 10 on 11 football. Ugh.

I could probably write about the offense all day, but I'll just stop with this. Davis didn't have a winning game plan on Saturday. It was just good enough for Texas to score 10 points through the first three quarters of the game and it was just good enough that Texas almost had a chance to tie the game, down by eight in the final minute.

The offense needs this bye week like an 85-year old, three-packs-per-day chain smoker needs an oxygen tank.

Grade: F

Defensive line -Although DeMarco Murray rushed for more than 100 yards in the game, I thought the defensive line played pretty well throughout the game. The interior of the line was excellent, led by Kheeston Randall and Alex Okafor, as they helped control the line of scrimmage for most of the day and limit most of OU's inside running game. I thought it was the best the defensive tackle position has played this season.

The play of the ends wasn't quite as strong, but it was still very good. Sam Acho might have been the best player on the field at times and his seven tackles and half sack don't really reflect how well he played or how much attention he was given at all times by the Oklahoma line and offensive game-plan. A lot of the Texas pass rush was neutralized by an OU attack that put getting rid of the ball quickly at a premium.

Eddie Jones and Jackson Jeffcoat had quite, but notorious afternoons. Jeffcoat only had one tackle on the day, although he created a turnover that was negated by a penalty on… ahem… Jones. The fact that both players committed two of the biggest penalties of the afternoon stings in a big way.

Grade: C+

Linebackers - Two players that absolutely left it all on the field were Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho, who combined for 19 and 17 tackles, respectively. Neither player was perfect with their play, but there's little question that they did their part to help this team achieve a victory.

Acho was especially good, recording 4.5 tackles for loss, a sack and nearly the play of the game with his forced fumble of Landry Jones in the final 90 seconds. Meanwhile, Robinson was all over the field on Saturday, but he never made the type of game-changing play that would have put the defense over the top. In fact, his most memorable play was a needless unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that enabled Oklahoma to keep its opening scoring drive going. That was a seven-point mistake in an eight-point game.

Likewise, Jared Norton and Dustin Earnest played more in this game and were solid (nine combined tackles), but neither made a game-changing play and when Norton had a chance to recover Acho's forced fumble, he just didn't get there in time, which was pretty much the story of this unit all day.

Grade: B-

Secondary -Before we talk about this group's ills, let acknowledge the good. The best player on the field today might have been Aaron Williams on the defensive side of the ball. Although he wasn't 100% committed to Ryan Broyles, he was responsible for quite a bit when he attempted to work the middle of the field and he was mostly turned into a non-factor. If you'd told me before the game that Broyles would be limited to five catches for 36 yards and a long of 13 yards, I'd say Texas wins big.

Where Williams pretty much shut down the middle of the field from the slot, Curtis Brown and Chykie Brown struggled along the perimeter, both in coverage and in run support. Oklahoma freshman Kenny Stills got the best of both players in catching five passes for 78 huge yards and that was a match-up that both players had to have. They simply gave up more plays than they made.

Meanwhile, the safety play was just ok, as Blake Gideon, Kenny Vaccaro and Christian Scott all recorded four or fewer tackles, with no true difference-making plays of note. Overall, this team cannot win if this group isn't elite and they weren't that on Saturday because they didn't make any plays.

Grade: C

Defensive game plan -Whatever Will Muschamp did this week to prepare for the quick-tempo offense of the Sooners wasn't quite effective enough because the Sooners had the Longhorns on their heels early in the game, although from a game-planning standpoint, his defense did enough to get off the field. However, the mental mistakes and penalties from this side of the ball made this game nearly impossible to win for the Longhorns. It's just too hard to win against good teams when you are shooting yourself in the foot over and over again.

I give Muschamp a lot of credit because he made some mid-game adjustments that helped slow Oklahoma down and he had his unit in a position to play winning football for the majority of the game. Still, the sloppy play, bone-headed penalties and of created turnovers is a reflection on the defensive staff and that's Muschamp's side of the ball.

That side of the ball is making too many mistakes and most are coming from experienced players.

Grade: B-

Special teams -Once again, this unit wasn't very good. There's just no other way to put it and it's time to admit that this phase of the ball is as sloppy as any other on the team and has been all season. The Aaron Williams fumble was an obvious backbreaker, but that stuff has been going on all season. In fact, it's the third time in five games that a fumbles punt that it has happened. Meanwhile, the biggest return of the game occurred when the Texas coverage units failed right after Texas scored to cut the lead to 14-7. Before the defense could even blink, the Oklahoma offense was at the 45-yard line.

The Texas punting game was ok and the coverage units were actually very good at times with the exception of the big kickoff return, but the bottom line is there's no snap to this phase of the game and it's completely unexpected. The return games were expected to be sensational and they've been as big of a weak spot as the offensive line.

Grade: D

Overall -The more deserving team won the football game. The more talented team did not. Texas should have won the football game yesterday because they have more good players, but they are simply too sloppy of a team right now in all three phases to beat a pretty good team playing a nice brand of football. That's what OU was on Saturday, a pretty good team that played pretty well. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Longhorns just didn't give themselves a chance to win. So much about what's wrong with this team goes back to the off-season and apparently all of the things that didn't happen - the discipline, the tackling, the teaching… there's a lot of little things. That's actually this team in a nut shell - this team doesn't do the little things… the details… well at all.

They now have two weeks to change the direction of this season because all three phases of the game face some hard questions. Perhaps the bigger issue is whether this team truly has answers for some of their more difficult questions or whether those in command are even ready to ask them.

Grade: D

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